Teddy bears are among the most cuddled and beloved of childhood companions, but they are relatively new in the world of toys. The story of their U.S. origins is probably the most famous. When President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt failed to make a kill on a hunting trip in November of 1902, his companions caught a bear cub and tied it to a tree to give him an easy target. The President would not fire. Instead, he declared, "Spare the bear! I will not shoot a tethered animal."

Washington Post artist Clifford K. Berryman immortalized the scene when he drew it in a political cartoon for the paper called "Drawing the Line in Mississippi." That month, Brooklyn store owners Morris and Rose Michtom made a stuffed bear doll, called "Teddy's Bear," and placed it in their display window with the cartoon. The bear was a sensation, prompting the Michtoms to found the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company.

Meanwhile, around the same time in Germany, Richard Steiff created a soft toy bear for his aunt, Margarete Steiff, who owned a big toy factory. Steiff's idea for the bear, called a Bar 55PB, came from his drawings of the animals at the Stuttgart Zoo. An American wholesaler, George Borgfeldt, discovered it at the Leipzig Toy Fair in 1903, and promptly ordered 3,000 of them. By World War I, Steiff had sold millions of these toys in the United States, Germany, and England.

Steiff bears made between 1903 and 1905 are the most-sought after. They feature hump backs, long snouts, long arms with curved paws, and big tapered feet—after 1905, the trademark Steiff button was sewn into their ears. The earliest Ideal teddy bears, which are also highly valued, look very different; they have triangular faces, chubby bodies, and long straight limbs.

The heyday of teddy bears was between 1906 and 1908, during Roosevelt's second term. Along with regular bears, manufacturers produced novelty models, like the 1907 Laughing Roosevelt Bear by the Columbia Teddy Bear Company, which featured the president's large teeth. The 1917 Patriotic Bear, made during World War I, was red, white, and blue and had electric light bulbs for eyes.

Before World War II, many new teddy-bear makers got their start. In Germany, Bing made mechanical bears while Schuco focused on miniature bears. Hermann bears from this period are also highly regarded. In Great Britain, Dean's started making bear toys in 1915, while Merrythought got into the business in 1930. J.K. Farnell made the original "Winnie the Pooh" bought for Christopher Robin in 1921.

Other early-century teddy-bear makers include Harwin & Co., Chad Valley, William J. Terry and Chiltern in England; Knickerbocker, Bruin, Aetna, and Gund in the United States; and...

After the war, the U.S. market was overwhelmed with cheap plush toys from Asian factories. By the end of the '60s, the traditional teddy bear seemed to be on the verge of extinction. But when teddy bear collector Peter Bull published his 1969 book on his obsession, interest in old-fashioned bears surged. Christie's hosted the first auction devoted to antique and vintage teddy bears in 1985, the same year the Teddy Bear Artists Guild was founded in the United States.

Thanks to the interest in old-fashioned teddy bears, there are a lot of deliberate fakes on the market. They often incorporate elements of the old teddy bears, including long arms, back humps, and straw stuffing, but in the wrong combinations, and appear suspiciously dirty. Knowing the features of antique bears can help you identify the fakes.

For example, vintage teddy bears were most often made out of wool mohair. Silk plush bears were introduced around 1930, but cotton plush wasn't used until after World War II and synthetics didn’t appear until the 1950s. The earliest bears have boot-button eyes. In the 1920s, glass eyes became the most common, while in the 1950s eyes were made of plastic. Each manufacturer had its own unique nose stitching—early noses were stitched out of woven silk.

The oldest antique teddy bears are hard-stuffed with excelsior, also known as wood wool. If a vintage bear is lightweight, it was probably stuffed with fibers from the kapok tree. Bears filled with foam are newer. As for the paws, the ones on vintage bears had pads made of felt or cotton, although the cotton would have worn out and been replaced by now. Velvet and rexine (a fake leather) were also used for paw pads starting in the late 1930s.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

National Carousel Association

National Carousel Association

Since 1973, the National Carousel Association has been dedicated to preserving and restoring carousels and carousel… [read review or visit site]

Dollreference.com

Dollreference.com

This densely packed index of antique and vintage dolls claims to offer over 10,000 images of dolls from the 1800s … [read review or visit site]

Vintage Dolls of the 50s

Vintage Dolls of the 50s

Rhonda Wilson's collection of 1950s dolls, organized by name (Ginny and friends, Littlest Angel and friends, etc.) … [read review or visit site]

Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls

Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls

Kaylee's extensive collection of vintage dolls from the 1930s to 90s. Click the balloons to browse. Though Kaylee s… [read review or visit site]

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood

Embrace your inner child on this website from the Victoria and Albert Museum, filled with high-quality images and i… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1909 Antique Steiff Teddy Bear With ButtonAntique Teddy Bear Brown Jointed Stuffed Straw Wood/sawdustRare Early Stieff? Teddy Bear 5 Jointed German Middle Seam Squeaker Growler 190516" Antique Vintage Mohair Teddy Bear Jointed Worn Growler Maybe SteiffSteiff Pre War Teddy Bear, Silkplush, Blunk Button, , Approx. 11.2"Vintage Large Mohair Jointed Teddy Bear Antique Steiff Bear Blond Mohair Jointed 4” Button In Ear Poor Condition CutieAntique Jointed Teddy Bear White/blonde 12" Hump Back Steiff Era - Af!!Vintage Golden Mohair Jointed Teddy Bear Original Steiff Christmas Ornament Teddy Bear On Rollers Ear Button & TagsOriginal Steiff Sylvester And Tweety Mohair Teddy Bear Ear Button & TagsAntique Vintage Old German / Austrian Miniature Mohair Teddy Bear, 1940s-50sVintage Steiff Original Teddy Bear Tags Button 7" Red Ribbon Jointed Beige Antique 1920's Teddy Bear- Steiff?Exclusive Steiff Jointed Mohair Musical Teddy Bear W/ Ear Button Tags & BagAmerican Girl Bitty Baby Doll Lot With Clothes Shoes Teddy Bear Carriers BooksWright Bros. Steiff Mohair 100 Years Aviation Teddy Bear W/ Ear Button & TagsOriginal Steiff 'teddy B' Fully Jointed Mohair Teddy Bear W/ Ear Button & TagsSteiff Pre War Teddy Bear, Brown Underscored Ff Button, , Approx. 6"Steiff Santa's Elf Christmas Ornament Teddy Bear W/ Ear Button, Tags & BoxAntique Primitive Teddy Bear Mohair JointedAntique Teddy BearClassic Steiff Mohair Big Foot Teddy Bear W/ Ear Button & TagClassic Steiff Halloween Cat And Mouse Mohair Teddy Bear W/ Ear Button & TagsVintage Mohair Teddy Bear ˆSteiff Roly Poly Santa Christmas Ornament Teddy Bear W/ Ear Button, Tags & Box1927 Replica Steiff 'molly Hund' Teddy Bear W/ Ear Button & TagsOriginal Steiff 100 Years Jointed Mohair Teddy Bear W/ Ear Button & TagsOriginal Steiff Christmas Ornament Teddy Bear W/ Wreath Ear Button & TagsTea Party Of Dolls & Teddy Bear~crashed By Rude Pull Toy Dog~vintage SnapshotZawieruszynski Doll: Dianka #60/150 W/ Coa, Teddy Bear, Stand, And Mint BoxMadame Alexander Be My Teddy Bear 8" Doll Nrfb New Mib 2000Classic Steiff Mohair 'snobby' Teddy Bear W/ Ear Button & TagHarrods Resin Xmas Jasper Teddy Bear 2014 Foot Dated Tree Holiday Ornament1989 Steiff Circus Clown Fully Jointed Mohair Teddy Bear W/ Ear Button & TagSteiff Jewels The 2007 Swarovski Teddy Bear W/ Light Peach Mohair Fur In Its BoxAntique Fully Jointed Mohair Teddy Bear Stieff ?Barbie Baby,crib,shopping Cart & Basket,stroller,bounce Chair,monitor,teddy BearJoyce Smith Mohair One Of A Kind Hand-made Posable Teddy Bear, "adam" - Qj T04Original Steiff Club 2004 Fully Jointed Mohair Teddy Bear W/ Ear Button & TagsHandsome... 18"... Minty Steiff Teddy Bear...made In Germany...Original Steiff Christmas Snowflake Ornament Teddy Bear W/ Ear Button,tags & Box1909 Replica Steiff Somersault Mohair Teddy Bear W/ Ear Button & Tags~ Katana ~ A Mini Miniature Artist Winged Teddy Bear By Lisa Madsen ~Antique Mohair Stick Teddy BearHandmade Antique Mohair Teddy Bear Red Original Steiff Fully Jointed Mohair Navy Teddy Bear W/ Ear Button & TagsClassic 2004 Steiff Mohair Teddy Bear W/ Ear Button & TagSteiff Richard Steiff Bear, First Repl., All Id's In Box, 32 CmDanbury Mint 2004 Steiff Fully Jointed Mohair Teddy Bear W/ Ear Button & Tags1950s Vintage 6" Steiff Teddy Bear With ButtonClassic 2004 Steiff Mohair Teddy Bear W/ Ear Button & TagsClassic 2004 Steiff Mohair Teddy Bear W/ Ear Button & TagsVintage Merrythought Marked 48 Cms Golden Mohair Gorgeous Teddy BearDanbury Mint 2006 Steiff Fully Jointed Mohair Teddy Bear Ear Button & TagsSteiff Teddy Bear Blonde 25. 1993Original 1999 Steiff Blue Mohair Teddy Bear W/ Ear Button & TagPendleton's Mohair Teddy Bear "crystal" By Terry Hayes 2002 Rare VintageOriginal 2006 Steiff Navy Teddy Bear Basa W/ Ear Button & TagsStuffed Beige Lovely 50cm Plush Teddy Bear Soft Gift For Valentine Day Birthday